Audacious goal

Dr. La Mar Hasbrouck. (photo by Dan Barton)

Last Friday was La Mar Hasbrouck’s last day of work in Ulster County. He had been serving as the county government’s combined health director and commissioner of mental health. His departure from the job, the highest-paying in the Ulster County budget, came 11 days after the announcement was made that he had been appointed director for public health for the State of Illinois.

In his statement, Ulster County Executive Mike Hein had put a positive spin to the considerably greater responsibilities Hasbrouck was taking on in his new job. “I think it’s a testament to Dr. Hasbrouck and his talents as well as the reforms he put in place in Ulster County,” Hein’s press release said, “that an organization the size of the State of Illinois has selected Dr. Hasbrouck to be their director of public health.”

The job was not left vacant for long. On Tuesday Hein appointed Dr. Carol Smith, medical director for urgent care providers Emergency One, as head of the two departments. Smith, whose position is subject to county legislative approval, will serve on an interim basis starting May 7. Smith, 58, is board-certified in internal medicine and is completing a master’s degree in public health.

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Illinois’ population is close to 12 million, about 75 times that of Ulster County. In their announcements, none of the Illinois news organizations Googled referred to Ulster County as the location where the state’s new health director had served. They instead followed the formulation established in Gov. Pat Quinn’s press release that the new guy had been health director “in upstate New York.”

Two and a half years ago, Hasbrouck, now 44, had succeeded Dean Palen, who was fired by Hein from his Ulster County job under cloudy circumstances. Last year Hasbrouck became mental health commissioner as well. His initiatives included the development of a prevention-based health agenda, the establishment of a stakeholder-inclusive process, and the securing of hundreds of thousands of dollars of outside grants to increase local services.

In the public eye, Hasbrouck might have been most noticed for his involvement in the Healthy Ulster initiative that Hein had proclaimed, an effort whose long-term goal was to make Ulster the healthiest county in New York State. The University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute keeps county data, based on a potpourri of 13 extremely varied indicators for all the counties in every state, and in the past three years has published the rankings on its website.

In 2010, Ulster ranked 33rd out of the 62 counties in New York State. In 2011, it ranked 35th. The statistics for 2012, just published on April 4, show Ulster County as ranking 29th among counties in the state.

Healthy Ulster County Week this year runs from May 19 to May 28.

Nearing the end of his last day of work, Hasbrouck predicted that Ulster would rise further in the rankings as the improved efforts of the organization that had been established would bear fruit. “You’ll see a turning of the tides as we lower the risk factors and establish beachheads in the areas we want to improve,” he said.

Hasbrouck’s view was that Ulster County now had the framework, the energy and the political will for continued improvements in public health. His role, he said, had been “to breathe life into the framework and to galvanize the community” to support the department’s efforts. The operational framework was now in place. “It takes a community,” he said. “I’ve been enriched by the partnerships we’ve made.”

What qualities and ambitions did he think his successor in the position should have?

First, he said, with the county public health framework now in place it was not necessary “to re-create the wheel.”

Secondly, it was important to continue and to grow the partnerships the department had worked hard to enrich.

And finally, he suggested, “Try to get a visionary, because we have a pretty audacious goal.”

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